Employee Communication

with Kare Anderson from Say It Better

About the host

  • Jacob Shriar
  • Growth Manager
  • Officevibe
  • Montreal, Canada
  • Passionate about company culture. On a mission to make work better.

About the interviewee

Video Summary

We had the pleasure of speaking with Kare Anderson, Forbes and Huffington Post columnist, TEDx Speaker, Emmy-winning former Wall Street Journal and NBC journalist and author.

Related resources

Video Transcript

Jacob Shriar: Hello everyone, I’m Jacob Shriar, growth manager at Officevibe, and today I’m here with Kare Anderson, who’s a speaker, author, and all around great person.  Kare thanks so much for being here with me.

Kare Anderson: It’s good; I look forward to talking with you.

Jacob Shriar: Awesome, maybe just before we get started, we dive deep if you can, maybe you can give a little background to our audience on who you are, some of the work you’ve done, and things like that.  Just any background I think would be helpful.

Kare Anderson: I was raised to not talk about myself, so this is hard.  I was a journalist for the Wall Street Journal and NBC, and by accident, became a speaker on Connected Behavior, won an Emmy, introverted, started when I was young, startled people that I’d be winding up doing this.  I think the joy in life for me is working with people extremely different than me, and co-creating stuff that we couldn’t have done on our own.

I’ve worked with some start-ups.  I love being around technical people.  It’s just a good time in my life.  I believe there’re some desperately scary things happening and some wonderful opportunities.  It’s more extreme.  This is a time of love and intended consequences as the norm, and Pandora’s box is more likely to happen.  Those people that are able to see that and have allies in different sectors are the ones that are really going to do well in this next era.

What Is Mutuality?

Jacob Shriar: She’s very, very interesting.  Me and you have a lot in common, actually.  I’m also an introvert, and also love being around technical people as well.  We’ll talk to today about a subject that I know you’re very passionate about, mutuality.  Really, I want to let you do most of the talking, but can you just explain to us what mutuality is and why it’s important if you can maybe specifically in the context of the workplace.

Kare Anderson: Yes. As we’ve discussed, there’s a lot of people who don’t like their workplace.  They’re not enjoying it.  They’re not happy.  It’s been getting worse for years.  I think part of it is because they get whipped side around, and they don’t get to use their best talents more often.  They don’t get acknowledged for it.  They’re not clued in on what’s going on.  They don’t get feedback.

Teresa Amabile wrote, “The Progress Principle,” and she cited it.  I believe that with mutuality, if you have that kind of mindset, you’re more likely to look in a situation and say it’s not about me, it’s not about you, and to look for someone’s sweet spot that you share.  Where there’s a shared opportunity, not just where you went to college or where you grew up, but say, “I notice that you’ve been suggesting a lot of things that indicate that your interest is really in analytics, and your work is related to it marginally.  Can you tell me more about that because I’m interested in it too, and it’s part of what I do.”

Saying things like that, acknowledging sooner where you can find strengths together, and then recognizing the people that are often most difficult for you to be around are some of your best allies.  They just don’t act right like you.  Like when I was at the Wall Street Journal I knew that I was least experienced working in the London bureau.  It was a pretty tough group; I admired them greatly.  I sat out the lawyer, the chief legal counsel, and I said, “We have a little in common.  That’s why I think we would be helpful to each other.  What don’t we at least have lunch.”  She said, “You’ve got ten minutes, honey.”

I said, “Well, I bet the way you’re writing, I could help you with it.  I’ll bet your insights about where we have legal liability are things that help me to know where I have to walk the line, because I want to go right up against it.”  He said, “Not interested.”  A week later he called, and we went to lunch.  We wound up realizing there’s several ways we hadn’t expected and got concrete about them.

If you have a workplace, there’s a man named Adam Grant.  He wrote a book called Give and Take, it’s a best-seller.  He says, “There’s givers, there’s takers, there’s matchers. Givers are among the least and most successful.”  He then proscribes how to give.  I believe more than givers, it’s opportunity makers.  It’s the people that step in the shoes of the other people and say, “By the way, you suggested this.  I think you could do that well on your own.  If you want some help, fine, but I would like to suggest some resources for you.”

I believe opportunity makers, they’re being helpful givers, and there being open to saying, “If this isn’t right, tell me if I don’t have it right.”  Those people iteratively learning about what they most want to do, and what they’re best at.  That kind of approach of being open, a close listener, and a thread to the conversation, you become the glue to a group.

I’ve been training people for about three years now, in large companies where they’re whip sod a lot.  When you learn things about the sweet spot of mutual interest; go slow to go fast, praise them in front of people that are important to them, they bond.  The department may not be bonded together, but the groups that go through this training are.

It’s not that I’m great; it’s just that these things resonate.  When a group chooses to be helpful to each other, they’re so strong.  I don’t believe you have to be a surgeon to have that kind of team behind you, or soldier.  They just get the extreme examples of it.  We all crave it.  When our best talents are used together.  I’ll get off my soap box, Jacob, but I do feel strongly about that.

I love people who have been ignored, walked over in a meeting and for someone else from this training looks warmly at the person who’s dominating the meeting say, “That’s interesting.  Jacob, what do you think of that?  I’ve heard you had some great ideas before about it.”  Instead of my having to go one-on-one, we’re there for each other.

There’s a set of rules where we can raise the bar and bring out each other’s better side.  When we do, we’re more likely to be supported in our best side.  A lot of behavioral research is showing some specifics about this.  It’s also a notion to say that if you make someone a priority, and they make you an option, don’t stop giving, because it’s not just about you.  You’re perpetuating that behavior where they take it for granted, and they’ll be that way with other people.

It’s not quid pro quo in mutuality, but it’s really noticing who believes over time and looking to the sweet spot, looking to ways you can help each other.  That’s why I think that trade is so valuable in a more complex, tangent connected world.

How To Get Better At Hiring

Jacob Shriar: Very, very interesting.  It was a lot to digest there.  I got a few follow-up questions for sure.  My first one, though, is I guess one of the first things that popped into my head was how this ties back to hiring and the hiring process.   For example, it’s pretty well known that there are a lot of unconscious biases when people are making hiring decisions, and they tend to hire people that are exactly like them.

It has a negative ripple effect.  Because, for example, in performance reviews, there’re also biases when people give positive reviews because they think they’re like them, and if they’re reviewing someone different than them, they tend to give them a more negative review.  I guess is it really about being mindful of these things and really understanding that you should actually be seeking people that are completely different than you.  How do you tie that into the hiring process?  How do, besides at least being mindful of it, is there anything else that you can really do to make sure that you’re finding people that aren’t truly like you?

Kare Anderson: You’ve brought up a very important point, because it’s also the order in which the interviews happen.  Interviews are notoriously bad.  There’s something called one-pager, where as a recruitment tool they have people work on short projects, which they pay them.  Then you actually see what they can do, not what they can say.

Being a journalist, I can be facile.  That doesn’t mean I’m appropriate for the job.  Some people are slow thinkers; they don’t think on their feet, as Daniel Kahneman said, but they write beautifully with great feedback.  Some people are pessimistic by nature, and yet they’re more realistic than optimistic.  Getting down to the specifics, I think you’re absolutely right.

Number one, have at least three people, not four, but three in the interview.  Three are very different, but know different parts of the company, have different temperaments and approaches, and then debrief afterwards.  Have the debrief be specific.  Don’t say, “I think he’s warm.”  What do you mean?  No generalizations.  Say specifically, “This is a specific reason that was a warning sign for me when he or she said this.”  Having that debriefing with three radically reduces some of the blind spots that one person might have.

Second, if you’re being interviewed, look at them and say, “In light of what I’ve learned about this organization, when you ask me that question it seems like there’re three things to be most pertinent.”  Sometimes people don’t ask good questions, so you could give them better information.  You could then answer their question and say, “But as well, what I’ve noticed in the last few weeks from the public reports, such as such has come up.  I think I could be helpful there.  Conversely, I wouldn’t be helpful in this part, for example.”

You’re showing candor and specificity, and you’re showing that you actually watch closely and tried to understand the organization.  We hire for motivation as much as for skill.  It’s someone’s a go-getter, they’re a self-organizer, they can work well with others.  Showing it that way when you’re interviewed is one sign of that openness and that close focus.

Emotional Intelligence In Leaders

Jacob Shriar: Great answer, and great advice for job seekers who are being interviewed as well.  Something that’s also sparking off in my hand, something that I talk a lot about, and I’ve written a lot about before is, I guess, the role of psychology, and I’ll say emotional intelligence plays in leadership.  I think it’s so important personally for leaders to be very knowledgeable about psychology and have some sort of training about emotional intelligence.

Is there any connection there between the mutuality, psychology, and emotional intelligence?  There seems to be somewhat of a connection there.  Is that true?

Kare Anderson: I would drill down to the specifics, because when we get specific, we are more likely to understand what each other means.  I believe there is a lot in emotional intelligence that can help, but it’s got to be concrete.  The more I learn how I have blind spots and a bias; I’m less likely to have as much bias.   I will look at the nudges and the blind spots research and help people make decisions.

As I was saying earlier, we have very different kinds of intelligence.  On the pessimistic, optimistic spectrum, our disproportionately likes optimists.  I’m oriented that way; it’s my temperament.  Some of my best allies are pessimist, because they are more realistic, statistically speaking.  We have conversations that aren’t always easy, but talking together.  That’s what I was saying about fast and slow thinkers.  The thing about visual, auditory, and kinesthetic, in fact, there is no difference, although that’s popular.

Just as physiology, we’re drawn to different styles of people, not just the ones who look right like us.  There is a subtle bias against anybody darker, shorter, less attractive, and it’s universal.  You can find the people that have more than one of those traits.  I think when you get concrete, if there’s a training program can last a lifetime for both those of us who train that way and those of us who are learning it.

We all have different hot buttons, and I think if we’re aware of what they are.  For me, it’s when people talk loud, stand close, and interrupt others.  Another one is when there is a strong sense of unfairness, a lack of justice.  That’s near universal, but I know it’s a hot button for me, so growing up, when I saw someone not being fair, I would act like a jerk myself in righteous indignation.

I do think knowing your two main hot buttons is like defensive driving, you can see further ahead of time where you might act like a jerk in a different way because they’re doing something you deeply disrespect.  That self-awareness means you’re more likely to be able to step in someone else’s shoes and see what they mean their way.

My mind just went blank, but there’s a book I’m reading right now that is really good on emotional intelligence.  A new one just came out.  I’ll send it to you, Jacob, but that doesn’t help us for the purpose of this.  On Twitter List I have a list on human behavior.  I track some of the people writing and researching it that I like a lot.  I think you’re absolutely right.  The difficult first step is self-awareness to know where we may generalize that someone’s wonderful when, in fact, they’re not, but in that moment they match our stereotype bias.  That goes both ways.

There’s one thing I’ll say, Amy Petty, and a book I highly recommend called The Human Brand says that’s brands are personalities, and also companies are misnomers about what causes loyalty.  Amy and the people in the book said when you exhibit warmth first, in other words, you wonder why when I walk into a hotel there’s certain ways it looks more welcome.  A person is smiling, and smiling isn’t “HI”.  Smiling is warmth.  Even the elevated eyebrow that looks more open.  Warmth first, then confidence.  Not the reverse.

I’m from a Danish background.  Confidence was paramount.  I thought work hard, do a good job, and you should get a result.  As a journalist, I remember being so upset when I tracked two people who were in the State Department as diplomats.  They both worked hard, but one worked much harder.  When he was in Italy, he assumed parts in him that was just like the Italians.  He listened, and he was expressive.  When he went to Switzerland next, he adopted the part of him that facets that were much more like the Swiss.  He got promoted more than the other person who was serious, diligent, smart, well-intentioned, and didn’t smile very much.  I learned a lot from that research.

Jacob Shriar: That’s really interesting.  Almost seems…

Kare Anderson: Counter-intuitive.

Jacob Shriar: …exactly, in a weird way.  It doesn’t make that kind of sense, but it’s super interesting.

Kare Anderson: We’re instinctively struck by someone who appears to like us, and warmth is the first thing of it.  That’s happens quicker than the brain.  It’s primitive part of the brain of fight or flight.  Is this dangerous or safe?  The permutation of that is, is this welcoming or not?  There’re two people that I work with that I’ve grown to deeply admire, and this is the way they look when they’re really happy and glad to meet you.  This is the way when I’m happy.

It took me a while to just notice that was them, and it was my responsibility if I wanted a connection.  Understand that rather than projecting on them a bias.  If we only knew how many biases we had where we make snap decisions that are wrong.  Even the settings we have.  If we’re in a room with more curves in it, a round table or oval rather than rectangular, we’ll get along better, we’ll like each other better.  The more ambient noise there is in the more, the more agitated we get.  There’s peripheral vision that is less.

When Brian Soles interviewed me, I just flashed by call at the screen face.  You look down at your Smartphone, you look up, and we tend to look more dismissive or worse.  Those things cue people, even if they do it themselves, to not feel as cared about, so they don’t trust you as much.  Things that do not rationally relate to whether I do a good job, and I care about doing a good job for you, and I’m loyal to the company.

I keep looking back at Richard Branson.  It’s not that he’s so good, and he is, but why more leaders don’t realize you can look both warm and confident.  You can be congruent in studying people all of the time, specific ways, how you admire them.  Whatever you say specifically about someone else, you’re basically painting the picture for others what you value in the world.  I think we learn from someone like that, and we just haven’t learned very fast.

The Secret To Collaboration

Jacob Shriar: You talk a lot about the importance of words, and how even changing just one or two words can really make all the difference in terms of how people hear what you’re saying, and really listen to what you’re saying, and almost trust what you’re saying.

I just ask you one last question before we go.  I wish we had more time; honestly, this is such an interesting conversation.  You’ve written a lot about collaboration, and what makes good collaboration.  If you don’t mind, last question for you, can you talk a little about that, and what’s the secret to collaboration?  How people should be properly collaborating?

Kare Anderson: It’s a strong interest.  There’s a book called Collaboration by a friend of mine named Morten Hansen.  Bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration.  I believe there has to be a strong, explicit, obvious, sweet spot of shared interest, whether we’re told to be on the team, or we form it.  I think every person on the team must know why they’re there, and the collaboration, what the benefit.  I think there’s better if there’s no extra player.  I believe a group should have rules of engagement.

I’ve worked with over 30 companies now, and I say to them first of all with the team, what are the rules in which you engage?  In other words, no interruptions, some interruptions are okay, start and end on time, have a thread to the conversation, don’t go off on another direction.  One of the rules is if someone doesn’t keep the rules, we got to kick them off.  That threat brings out better behavior.  I believe in six and carrots.

With those as starting points, there’s a mutual accountability.  Then it becomes something that’s really helpful.  We’ll settle back church and Gore-Tex [SP] believe, and I do to, that six or seven people on a team is the maximum number.  If the team, group, or club is together for a long time, they’ll get more tight knit, rigid, and extreme, as we’re seeing in our culture politically.

As small groups are loosely coupled, and there’re reasons for different groups to work together, you get the benefit of a sense of belonging where we can talk in shorthand.  I know, Jacob, you’re so great at this, can you do this.  Actually I can’t, Kare, but I can do it this way.  There’re iterative conversations in goodwill where you get to use your best talents and temper them more often.  Keeping them separate is isolating and rigid, and we don’t get to learn and grow as much.

Ironically, the good collaborations mean I get to keep on learning.  I know you’ve got my back.  We know how to get each other’s back.  We get to accomplish things that are visible.  We see, so it deepens affiliations, but we also don’t get stuck in one group.  I think that collaboration like that, with those elements, is a change for people to feel their time is being used well.  There’s more meaning.  They discover things that weren’t even the assignment of the team.  They say, “Wow, this is cool we’re doing this, but it seems like we could go do this as well, and then be even greater.”

It’s been a joy to be around people, helping them in a small way just trigger that.  It’s like a dry alcoholic.  Someone that goes straight and stops drinking does have a problem.  They’re the ones that get most upset when someone else is drinking too much.  You have a team that’s formed like this, and they’re much less restless and resentful of other people that don’t play right in teams.  It oddly has a way to spiral through a company.

When a company lets self-organized people come up with the project, and say, “Look, we think this is important for the company.  I’ve got the right people.  They all said they want to do it.  Are you going to give us a shot, the resources and time?”  Google has had a lot of people go off on their own, but there’s not that sort of priority in knowing how they fit into the larger group.  They have a whole lot of labs, which I admire, but they’re more aligned, along the top goals of the company, and they get a chance to propose how they should be a part of it.  I think they’re would be more leverage, more mutuality, more collaboration.

Jacob Shriar: I’m just listening, trying to pay attention as attentively as possible, because what you’re saying is really awesome.  I honestly wish we had more time.  I know you kind of have to go.

Kare Anderson: I’ve got about four more minutes, so I don’t know if that works for you.

Jacob Shriar: Sure, let me ask you another question.  Maybe you can dive a little bit deeper into what you were just saying about that idea of purpose, serving the larger purpose.  You mentioned Google has a bunch of separate teams, but they don’t align themselves around a common purpose.  Is that kind of what you were saying?

Kare Anderson: The company has to set the rules at the top and be open to having them changed.  If your rules give them a sense of freedom to go off on their own, but you’re not explicit in the criteria of which of the projects will be chosen, and how, to go further.  There’s too much randomness.  I’m a deep admirer of Google.  You have a lot of money, so there’s a lot of chance to do that.

I think the best of all is what John Seely Brown, a hero of mine, called bounded and unbounded rules.  There’re some rules, guidelines, just like when you’re having all the employees able to use social media.  Then to come back and they have the opportunity to say, “By the way, this rule really doesn’t work.  Can we discuss it?  This is why.  We should add this one.”  Then they’re acting like your treating people as grownups.  They have ideas, and everybody should participate.

One of the things about Pixar out here, is Pixar when they’re doing the different stages of their films, everybody, including the janitor, sits in and gives feedback.  Suddenly people realize they want to learn more and work in a different part of the company, or they saw something that I didn’t.  I think it also enables people to get specific sooner, which I think is one of the most important things in life.  The more specific I am sooner, the more I capture your attention, and you know what I mean.

All kinds of content marketers, and other people, they start with generalizations.  The specific proves a general, but the general makes us go to sleep.  Concretely, what do you mean?  It’s very hard to get concrete.  Even when I’m writing about a topic I know well, to reduce it to what’s my main point out of which everything else falls, but I like all my points.  As someone said, you got to kill your darlings.  Your darlings are all those ideas you like.

That’s one of the benefits of an inclusive leader.  They listen closely.  They bring up five things, and they notice that people are not interested in three of them, they better notice that.  The other one grabs them and ask questions.  Inclusive means you listen really closely.  You respond directly to what they say.  You’re honest, and say I agree, I disagree, or I don’t understand, and here’s why.  If more of those conversations happen, I think the C-suite would get more higher performance out of people.

If they said straight out I goofed, I missed this part, or I’m really proud of this and I don’t get why you guys don’t get it, so tell me.  Let’s have a conversation.  There’re three companies I worked with where there was someone in middle management who was like that.  Who, once they had an internal version that wasn’t Chatter but something else where people could ask questions, I loved the organizational charts when you notice who’s asking the most questions.  Who gets people offering to help them?  Who really then has the clout and influence that you turn to?

I think when more organizations use that kind of system, Annie Jankowski, a friend of mine, actually helps organizations do social from the inside out.  Systems that operationalize things.  It’s kind of interesting if no one is asking a certain person or offering help.  That, to me, is a transformative time for inclusive leadership and for performance in companies.  That transparency.

When there’s a system of recognition and rewards, intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.  Dan Pink I know says intrinsic is what’s most meaningful.  I don’t know.  I see a lot of people that are barely making ends meet, and they are working hard.  I think it would be fine to give them a chunk of money for their good ideas.  I’m pro-money.  It’s a very solid recognition.  Those are some of my ideas on that.

Jacob Shriar: That was amazing, and just to touch on that last part that you mentioned.  I think the trick is, my own personal opinion, to combine intrinsic and extrinsic.  I forget it was someone who told me this a while ago, he said it beautifully; it was basically like using the intrinsic to amplify the extrinsic.  I forget exactly how he said it; I’m going to massacre it.  It was something along those lines.  It was really, really well said.

Kare Anderson: Jacob, I like that.  I do.  One feeds the other.  We want to feel recognized for who we are when doing well and it can’t be just one way.  You look so tough when we’re talking.  It’s really fun to watch your face.

Jacob Shriar: Like I said, I really just trying to listen.  You’re saying a lot of things, and there’re always these little nuggets of genius that come out.  You really got to pay attention; you can’t let anything slip, right?  We’ll end it here, but, honestly, just want to thank you so much for taking some time to chat with me.  I know you’re very busy.  Seriously, maybe we can do this again soon.  This was a lot of fun.

Kare Anderson: Great, and I just want to say, sometime by the end of the summer my book on mutuality, called Mutuality Matters, will be out in substantium.  We’re launched a video embedded eBook publishing firm with Peer Matter.  That’s something that I’m excited about, because we’re on the very edge of technology, but I believe it’s the way people can see and hear something.

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